Prime Cuts: Be An Overcomer, Lord, Lead Me On, Gentle Shepherd
Overall Grade: 4.25/5
The Hoppers' new album is an important record. For the unacquainted, this is an ear-opening educational walk through some of the sonic milestones of Southern gospel music. And for the connoisseur, this is an affecting as well as nostalgic journey back into some of the greatest moments of the genre. Featuring 11 newly recorded songs, this album finds the Hoppers putting their stamp on songs associated with The Chuck Wagon Gang, Gaithers, Goodman Family, Rambos and the Speer Family.
"Honor the First Families of Gospel Music" finds the family group working with label chief Bill Gaither along with award-winning, veteran producer Michael Sykes to record what is a first class record as far as production is concerned. Rather than adhering to a template, here you will find Gaither and Sykes donning each song with just the right backing as if each song bears its own identity. The album opens with what is the ace track here. "Be an Overcomer" is bombastic without sounding overwhelming as it features the full-bodied sounds of the whole team accompanied by a Salvation Army-esque militaristic backing.
Never to be caricatured by one particular sound, "Lord, Lead On" envelops a more traditional Gospel sound. Introduced by some rustic gentle acoustic guitar pickings before an old-fashioned call and response style of singing, this song transports us to a simpler and more wistful time. "I'm Longing for Jesus to Come Back" takes us deeper south. Calling to Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs and Bill Monroe, "Longing" takes on a bluegrass identity accentuated by banjos and accordions.
Meanwhile, befitting of the song's lyrics about how the Lord carries our burdens across troubled waters, "One More River" has a swampy African-American spiritual makeover. While "River" sounds earthy and organic, "He Looked Beyond My Fault" has a more sophisticated jazzy sound empowered by the gorgeous use of a string ensemble. Fans who love the Hoppers croon a piano-led ballad will absolutely adore "Gentle Shepherd."
The album does hit some plateaus with the mundane reading of "He is Mine and I Am His" and the oft covered "God Walks the Dark Hills." Nevertheless, this record is still an important record that makes contemporary some of the treasures from the Southern Gospel songbook. And by treating each song with care and identity, this album is a delight to listen without giving in to forty winks.